Jen Smith and her sons. Photo by Jen Smith.
The moment always unfolds in our house the same way.
“Boys, put your shoes on,” I call to my ten and six-year old sons in a loving, sweet voice as I brush my teeth, slip in my contacts, and get dressed for the drive to school.
No reply from the boys. Instead, I hear a Disney XD show playing, even though I’ve asked them to turn off the TV and stop swordfighting around the glass coffee table.
“Boys!” I call, my voice slightly louder. “We’re going to be late. Turn the TV off and put your shoes on.”
As I tie back my hair, I check work emails from my phone, and run through my to-do list which is bursting with after school activities and freelance assignments (I’m a full-time writer who works from home). “Boys!” My voice rises another decibel, but I still get no response, which is when the volcano usually erupts, or as my boys have dubbed it, the “Mom-cano.” I stomp out of the bathroom and yell at the top of my lungs, “How many times do I have to tell you to put on your shoes? We’re going to be late!” Their faces fall, the six-year-old looks weepy, and I feel like the worst mother in the world.
I never wanted to be a yeller. I grew up in a house where yelling was minimal. And to be honest, I have good kids. They do their homework, eat their green vegetables, and go to bed on time. But they’re also boys, prone to using my couch as a diving board and holding Jedi training sessions in the kitchen. With a husband who works long hours in New York City, I am the full-time caregiver for 90% of the day, which is exhausting and overwhelming.
That’s where yelling comes in. And the guilt. I’d lie in bed at night telling my husband how I unraveled that day when I found a Sharpie drawing on a bedroom wall or my ten-year-old refused to wear pants. “Just don’t yell,” he would reply. Easier said than done.
A few weeks ago, my six-year-old and I had this conversation: “Mommy,” he said, as he played with his Avengers action figures. “You know which Avenger you’d be?” I smiled, imagining myself standing with Thor. I could be a good Captain America. “Hulk, because no one likes you when you’re angry,” he said. I knew that something had to change.
Photo by Jen Smith.
I searched online for “moms that yell” and found Sheila McCraith’s book, Yell Less, Love More, How the Orange Rhino Mom Stopped Yelling at Her Kids—and How You Can Too! McCraith also has a no-yelling guide on her blog The Orange Rhino. I called her and learned that a few years ago, she had been at her breaking point. With four boys under the age of five, juggling was a way of life and so was yelling. When she had an outburst and remembered that a handyman was also in the house, she vowed to stop yelling for 365 days and despite some hiccups, she succeeded. McCraith calls her challenge The Orange Rhino Project because rhinos can be aggressive when provoked, but orange is a soothing shade.
“Yelling is such a taboo topic,” McCraith tells Yahoo Parenting. “No one tells their girlfriends, ‘I yelled at my kids today,’ but it helps to know you’re not alone.” As a first step toward becoming a non-yeller, McCraith suggests telling people about my plan so I’m held accountable. That includes my kids. If I came close to yelling, my boys were to say “orange rhino” or hold up an orange rhino cut-out that I printed off McCraith’s blog.
Step two: Remember that no matter how big kids seem, they’re still little. McCraith suggests hanging up photos of my sons as babies in “trigger” areas of the house (i.e.: the kitchen). Step three: Track your triggers. I realized I was trying to accomplish too much in the morning and that I usually had a meltdown around dinnertime, especially if I was cooking and overseeing homework.
The fourth step was difficult: Keeping perspective. As much as lightsaber practice at 7:00 a.m. is tiresome, if no is hurt, and I’m still able to make school lunches, who cares about the battle? Also, small goals are key. “You need to pick one thing to focus on, whether it’s no yelling before 9:00 a.m. or only tackling one errand that day,” McCraith says.
It was the perfect time to enact my plan: My husband was working late all week, we had several two-hour delayed school openings, and my younger son was home sick for three days while I tried to finish writing my book. Using McCraith’s “Orange Rhino Yelling Meter,” I learned to speak in a preschool teacher’s whisper and made eye contact with my kids. I also vowed to not call for them from the other room. While technically not “yelling,” taking 10 seconds to walk over and state clearly that it’s time for dinner is more effective. This also helped: “You wouldn’t yell at a friend or a cashier who you barely know,” McCraith says. “Why would you yell at your children, who are your greatest audience?”
This morning, while an ice storm raged outside and we prepared to leave for school early, I stayed in my pajamas (hey, I wasn’t exiting the car). I wore my glasses. I focused on making breakfast and bagging school lunches. And when it was time for the kids to put on their shoes and coats (a task I was dreading), I walked right over to the scuffle and said in a firm voice while maintaining eye contact, “I’m shutting off the TV because we’re going to school. Please put on your shoes.”
Guess what? The kids did exactly what they were told. It’s only day seven of my challenge, but this former Mom-cano is learning (with a few setbacks), that taking baby steps will help me go the distance.